And they call us dirty/ as if being covered in the earth is wrong/ as if the dirt has ever held our throats and threatened to kill our mothers…
I’ve been doing weekly write-ups of certain poems on Button Poetry’s channel, but I also wanted to highlight some older poems that are personal favorites of mine, which I’ll be doing once per month here. It’s a way to shout out some good work, and also to highlight some tools and tactics that poets use that might be useful to aspiring writers.
In the US, the dominant conversations about racism and xenophobia don’t always leave enough room to discuss history. Our “diversity” trainings maybe teach us how to sound less racist, or be more open-minded about “tolerating” other people, but they don’t generally discuss the web of policy, power, and history upon which this country (and not only this country) is built.
And we can’t really talk about racism, colorism, or xenophobia without first talking about colonization. The narrative that “we are a nation of immigrants” may often be invoked with good intentions (especially at this particular historical moment), but it also erases the history of millions of people who were already here—and who remain here. This poem is a history lesson, but also illuminates how that history is still with us. “If you are alive, you are descended from a people who refused to die.”
I think a lot about “the work” that a poem is doing. It’s not just what a poem is about, or how well-written it is; it’s about who wrote it, who it is for, who is listening to it, and the space that it takes up in the world (and in the larger collective conversation). This poem does work– both on a historical, counter-narrative level, and also on a deeply personal level. A line like “the western world would have you believe that only what is written is true/ we never really lose our ancestors/ do you feel them in the room with you now?” so deftly intertwines the personal and the political, the universal and the specific– and that, on some fundamental level, at least for me, is what poetry is all about.